It may have 15 years since Concorde disappeared from the skies but a new wave of speed-focused airline manufactures are attempting to usher in a new supersonic era. Executives are upbeat, despite the expensive and difficult to find engines, regulators nearly impossible to appease and the reality it will be until the next decade the jets could take to the skies.
One thing companies are not concerned about is demand, even if the target market is very small. “It will cost $120 million to buy one of our AS2 jets. The superrich buy yachts for $360 million, private planes for $60-70 million. We think the savings on time will motivate people,” said Ernie Edwards, Chief Commercial Officer at Aerion.
The AS2 is an 8-12 seater developed with Lockheed Martin and previously industry giant Airbus. Currently Aerion plans to have its planes flying by 2025 so long as it passes the plethora of tests and regulations. Flexjet has already put in 20 orders for the AS2 at a value of $2.4 billion and delivery is expected in 2023.
“Of course we started off focused on private business operations by wealthy individuals. They have the interest and the means to pay.” said Vik Kachoria, the CEO of Spike Aerospace which has an 18-passenger supersonic plane under development. “Then you also have companies who might want to fly senior leadership around. However, in the last few months we’ve increasingly realised there is a wider interest outside of these very specific groups, such of those willing to regularly pay to fly business-class.”
There is also a clear gap in the market both executives said.
“If the major airlines were crying out for supersonic companies who could build these planes they would. There are companies in our industry who have the financial capacity to do so. That’s why focusing on business jets and VIP’s is important,” said Mr Edwards.
Since Concorde last took to the skies concerns over aviation carbon footprints have rocketed, a another potential barrier. “It’s vital to consider the environment. It’s our responsibility to look after the planet and the high fuel emissions are a concern. We don’t want to disturb the fish, the birds with out planes,” said Mr Kachoria.
“We have to be sensitive to what goes on around the globe. But the fact is aviation contributes 2% of carbon emission,” added Mr Edwards.
Strict laws over noise, the environment, extensive up-front costs and numerous regulatory barriers to hurdle are just some of the challenges for the new wave of supersonic plane developers.
They are upbeat nonetheless. “Throughout history the desire by humans to save time will always be there. We will always want to go from A to B faster,” insisted Mr Kachoria.